STONINGTON — Danny Oliver’s Stonington is scattered with vivid, memorable stories told to him over and over again by his father, Clarence Oliver Sr., and his late grandmother, Myrtle Sturdee.
The native son is full of so much history that he has produced a book titled “Stonington & Deer Isle: Then & Now,” recently published by Penobscot Bay Press.
It’s a bright, warm September day. Oliver maneuvers his gray Jeep down the sharply inclined Granite Street.
“This is the street I grew up on,” the newly published author said from behind the wheel of the Jeep, which he drives when he’s not trucking lobsters or bait.
Oliver, who is Clarence Jr. by birth, grew up at 16 Granite St. It’s a white clapboard house like many others on Deer Isle but it’s distinguished by an in-ground swimming pool with a view of the Deer Island Thorofare.
“My mother put the pool in,” he said. That was in 1976. His father, Clarence Sr., was busy working and driving a truck much of the time, so his late mother often had to make her own fun. Oliver said she had the pool built for herself and her girlfriends to enjoy.
The family recently sold the house. Oliver said they hated to do it, but the property taxes were $5,000 a year with no relief in sight. That’s what his father had paid for the house.
Oliver, who is 55, continues his spin around town. He can tell you what was once where and who lived there and what the family’s up to now.
Over the past five years, when he hasn’t been hauling lobster or bait via an 18-wheeler or fishing on his boat, Driftwood, Oliver has been shooting photos of the island as it looks today.
Using pictures given to him by his late grandmother Myrtle or others sourced from the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society, Oliver has used a point-and-shoot camera to capture island places as they are now. His book features “before” and “after” photos.
Oliver was inspired to create a before-and-after book of Deer Isle after looking at a similar one about the historic Route 66, transecting the United States, which featured photos of how things used to look, along with images of the same spots today.
“I thought that was neat,” he said. “I thought it’d be fun to do that. I tried to stand in the exact same spot as the pictures were taken before.”
The most dramatic change perhaps is The Hotel Stonington, which was an expansive three-story edifice on West Main Street. Today, the space is occupied by Island Fishing Gear and NAPA Auto Parts.
In his book, Oliver describes The Hotel Stonington as being “quite elaborate” for the times. The inn boasted 16 sleeping rooms, a lounge, parlors and a dining room that could seat 40. It featured hot and cold running water, steam heat throughout, electric lights and telephones offering long-distance calls.
“Host J. H. Sweetser would meet the steamboats at the dock and taxi guests to and from the hotel,” Oliver wrote. “A beautiful building. I wish it was still here but it burned in 1919.”
Exiting Granite Street, Oliver swings right in his vehicle onto Bayview Avenue. The former steamboat wharf lies ahead jutting out into Stonington Harbor. The pier, which is near Oliver’s childhood home, has undergone various incarnations. For a while, the wharf housed the former sardine factory. Today, it’s the departure point to catch a ferry for Isle au Haut.
Looking west, farther across the harbor, is Two Bush Island and beyond it Crotch Island.
A drive down Main Street finds Oliver and his wife JoAnne’s grown daughter Meredith, who captains her late grandfather’s 36-foot lobster boat, the Edward Lee. Oliver recalled Meredith at age 3 or 4, standing on a milk crate on his boat, filling bait bags. She inherited the Edward Lee at age 15 after years of fishing with her maternal grandfather.
“She loved it,” Oliver said. “Of course I was driving a truck, so I wasn’t doing it full time, so she went with her grandpa.”
Oliver and his wife, JoAnne, who is a nurse at Island Nursing Home, have two more grown daughters.
Bethany is the oldest. She’s married living in Addison. Candace is the youngest. She and her fiancé are clammers. She’s also a photographer, doing business as Candy Leigh Photography and she helped her dad with some of his book’s photos.
As much as Stonington’s historic Main Street has changed, Oliver said the South Deer Isle Bridge is the most different. He explained that Stonington, formerly Green’s Island, was more of a quarry town and Deer Isle had more fishing. Today, commercial fishing is concentrated in downtown Stonington.
At one time, Deer Isle’s Southeast Harbor was lined with businesses associated with the fishing industry. Boats would go out to Merchant’s Point, which takes you between Stonington’s Oceanville neighborhood and Deer Isle’s Sunshine Road area.
Today, once you cross over the Deer Isle Bridge from Sedgwick, you can drive either Route 15 skirting the east side of Deer Isle or Route 15A on the west side of the island.
But, many years ago, there was just one main road that ran down the middle of the island. Today, all that remains of that byway is a trail. Oliver has ridden an all-terrain vehicle down a portion of it.
At Penobscot Bay Press, Book Editor Caroline Spear says the first printing of “Stonington & Deer Isle: Then & Now” has sold so well that another run is planned.
“Danny Oliver’s take on the island’s “then and now” has been wildly popular this summer among local residents and those from away who know and love the island, with orders coming in from near and far,” Spear said.
“I found Danny’s unique style to be very appealing in the decision to publish the book and realized immediately that his premise would be a hit. I hope I can persuade him to do a second volume in the near future.”
“Stonington & Deer Isle Then & Now” ($29.95) is available for sale at the Island Ad-Vantages office in Stonington and the Weekly Packet office in Blue Hill or online at http://penbaypress.me/.